Why McDonald’s CFO Is Heading for Academia

Matthew Paull wants to teach the gospel of avoiding greed.
Kate PlourdJuly 25, 2007

After six years of overseeing the books of the largest fast-food chain in the world, McDonald’s CFO Matthew Paull announced that he will retire this year to pursue a college-teaching career.

Paull, 55, who is credited for a good part of the company’s success in the last four years, told now that he has accomplished the goals he set out to do at the fast-food giant he’s eager to return to teaching–a career path he explored early in his career.

“It’s not about getting some bigger job at McDonald’s. I never wanted some bigger job” he said. “And I never wanted to be CFO at any other company.”

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective CFOs

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective CFOs

Download our whitepaper to discover the technical and behavioral skills needed to lead your business forward.

After 14 years at McDonald’s, serving as CFO since 2001, Paull will finish out the year. He then plans to teach part time at the undergraduate level in international business, economics, or finance at a university in San Diego. At the same time, he’ll keep his hand in corporate decision-making via his board membership at Best Buy Co.

Paull gave teaching a whirl for a few years when he taught tax and finance at his alma mater, the University of Illinois. He said he “fell in love” with the job but “couldn’t support the lifestyle that I enjoy on a teacher’s salary.”

McDonald’s also provided some teacher training for the finance chief, who adds that explaining complicated financial decisions to colleagues at McDonald’s who are unfamiliar with finance was a teaching experience in itself.

For his own part, the most important lesson Paull has learned at McDonald’s is to make the long-term goals of shareholders a priority and not overhype short term results. Indeed, he helped put that lesson into action at McDonald’s by taking part in the company’s decision to stop issuing quarterly earnings guidance in 2003.

The move away from short-term goals, he says, was the best decision McDonald’s made. When the company made the change, its shares were trading in the teens; four years later, however, they’re trading at just over $50.

Leaving McDonald’s with an annual salary of $683,333, Paull says he looks forward to providing students with a values-based business education. He wants to teach them about how to maintain a proper equilibrium between individual integrity and company performance. “Sometimes the balance gets skewed, and people focus towards results or greed,” he says. “And I’d like to help restore [the right] balance.”

4 Powerful Communication Strategies for Your Next Board Meeting